Toyota, Ford to Bolster Hybrid-Engine Options; Honda to Aim at Prius

By dancurranjr On August 18th, 2008

Auto makers are angling to carve out their own niches in fuel-efficient design, from expansion of the gasoline-electric hybrid technology already available in the Toyota Prius to the new plug-in hybrid vehicle known as the Volt under development by General Motors Corp.

Hot off its success with its Prius sedan, Toyota Motor Co. said Friday that it would make hybrid engine systems available on all of its models by 2020. Ford Motor Co., which has few hybrid options among its vehicles, plans to double its hybrid-vehicle lineup and production next year.

And Honda Motor Co. said last week at an industry conference in Traverse City, Mich., that in 2009, it will import a new hybrid to compete directly against the Prius in the U.S. market — and at a lower price.

The Chevrolet Volt still is scheduled to go on sale in 2010, and its chief designer, Bob Boniface, gave the Center for Automotive Research’s management briefings seminars an early look at the most recent styling changes adopted to create a sleeker front end and to extend its range on battery power through better aerodynamics.

The Volt will be able to go at least 40 miles on its lithium-ion battery, but the vehicle also will contain a small gas tank that would recharge the battery if necessary. Consumers would be able to recharge the vehicle at home using a conventional household outlet.

The auto industry has scrambled to meet shifting U.S. consumer demand toward small, fuel-efficient cars and away from trucks and sport-utility vehicles. Even though gasoline prices have recently retreated from above $4 a gallon, most auto makers have said they consider the shift toward small cars to be more or less a permanent change in the overall mix of vehicles customers want. And the companies intend to build them.

Toyota and Ford have said they haven’t been able to build enough hybrid vehicles to meet consumer demand. Though most auto makers are assumed to lose money on hybrids, Toyota’s Bob Carter, head of North American sales, said in an interview that his company makes a profit on its Prius hybrids, which recently exceeded sales of one million units globally.

In another sign of the shifting market demand away from trucks, Toyota confirmed last week that the Japanese auto maker abandoned its plans to resume pickup-truck production at its plant in Indiana this fall. Originally, the company planned to restart production of its Tundra pickup there in November after a suspension earlier this year. Production instead will be revived only at its Texas facility this fall, and the plant in Princeton, Ind., will take on production of the Sequoia and Highlander, which are both SUVs.

Source: Wall Street Journal

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